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In 1981, Congress passed a law proclaiming a Women's History Week in March. The law was later amended in 1987 to include the entire month. The theme for this year's National Women's History Month is Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Women traditionally have been underrepresented in these fields and have not been recognized for their accomplishments in them. Therefore, the National Women's History Project (NWHP) has selected 18 women this year who deserve special recognition, half of who are being honored posthumously. The honorees include physicians, scientists, an anthropologist, a mathematician, engineers, an architect, a naturalist, and a K-12 STEM educator (http://www.nwhp.org). These women were trailblazers and innovators. The NWHP believes that we as a society can influence the development of young women by showcasing positive role models. Although nursing is not represented among this year's honorees, it is classified as a STEM career.
International Women's Day was started in March of 1911 and rapidly spread to other countries in Europe, later becoming International Women's Month. The celebration in the United States was on and off from the early 20th century until it gained considerable momentum during the women's rights movement of the 1960s. In 1975, the United Nations began sponsoring International Women's Day every year on March 8 to commemorate women's rights and peace. Nations around the world celebrate the accomplishments of women in all walks of life, from small gatherings to grand events. The 2013 theme is The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum. Groups and organizations often add a second customized theme that reflects the issues and concerns of women in their own locale. Several issues that have been highlighted include bride burning for unacceptable dowries, rape, and female genital mutilation (http://www.internationalwomensday.com). The December 2012 violent rape and beating of a young woman in India-that ultimately resulted in her death-forced an outcry for change from women and men around the world.
Some voices have been louder and more constant than others. One of these voices is author and activist Maya Angelou. I have long been an avid fan of hers; a picture of her hangs in my office to remind me of the power of using words to express the human condition along with actions to bring about change. Last September, the Forsyth Medical Center's Maya Angelou Center for Women's Health and Wellness in Winston-Salem, N.C., hosted the first Maya Angelou International Women's Health Summit. Nurses were part of this event, sharing their expertise along with other interprofessional advocates in women's health. A goal for the Summit was "to honor the Maya Angelou Center's 'commitment to the global improvement of women's healthcare through research, innovation, clinical programs, public awareness, advocacy, and community education'" (http://www.camelcitydispatch.com/maya-angelou-international-womens-health-summit). Conference attendees tackled discussions on universal topics, such as healthcare disparities, providing cross-cultural care, child and infant mortality, migrant women, refugees, spirituality and mental health, violence against women, and social media influences. The summit was open to nursing students from colleges in the area. Imagine the impact being in the presence of world leaders in women's health had on shaping their views on how to practice nursing and encouraging their aspirations to become leaders of change.
In both the national and international celebrations of women, we are encouraged to celebrate the women in our own lives-our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, and colleagues. You really don't have to look far to find someone deserving of honor on March 8. If you haven't read Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman," read it now at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178942.
Jamesetta Newland, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP, FNAP
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